Cheering fans lined opposite sides of the fence. The lights flicked on as dusk turned to dark at Leddy Park.
The stage was set. The Division I high school boys tennis championship would be settled with the only match still in play: Champlain Valley’s Ben Sampson vs. Burlington’s Theodore Schulman.
And the No. 5 singles players did not disappoint.
In an entertaining, back-and-forth battle that required a 10-point matchbreaker in the third set, Sampson prevailed to lift the No. 6 Redhawks a 4-3 win over the top-seeded Seahorses on Thursday during a championship that lasted for 3 hours, 45 minutes.
Also rallying on the road to beat Stowe in the semifinals, CVU (13-4) captured its first title in 21 years.
“It’s a long time coming to win it,” longtime CVU coach Frank Babbott said. “All and all, they did what I knew they were capable of doing.”
After losing the first set to Schulman, Sampson forced the matchbreaker by surviving two match points in the second-set tiebreaker. Sampson opened a 7-3 lead in the matchbreaker but Schulman stormed back to tie at 8.
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Sampson used a lob shot to gain a 9-8 edge and then won it with a overhanded shot down the middle to set off a court-storming by teammates and fans. Sampson defeated Schulman, part of Burlington’s doubles state championship team at the individual tournament last month, 2-6, 7-6, 10-8.
“That helped me a ton and motivated me and kept my head in the game,” Sampson said of the cheering section. “It’s just mental toughness for me. I haven’t been playing tennis for very long, but I’m athletic and I can work hard and fight.”
Two teammates shared Sampson’s hard-earned path to victory. Charlie Mjaanes, at No. 2 singles, and Henry Bijur, at No. 4 singles, both lost their opening sets before rallying to win in third-set match breaks.
“We knew we could win those matches,” Sampson said.
Mjaanes bested Burlington’s Louis Berlind, 2-6, 7-6, 10-8. And Bijur came back to knock off Sam Silberman, 4-6, 6-2, 10-7.
“Staying within yourself makes a difference. They did great and it was a dream season for them,” Babbott said.
Hugo Crainich gave Burlington the early edge, winning at No. 1 singles over CVU’s Ethan Lisle (6-1, 6-1). The CVU doubles team of Aidan Greer and Cooper Whalen topped the Burlington tandem of Mark Munson and August Rienhart (7-5, 6-4) before Mjaanes’ victory gave the Redhawks a 2-1 advantage.
Burlington’s Will Doweney outlasted CVU’s Kobey Pecor (7-6, 6-4) in a 2 1/2 hour contest to level the match at 2. Bijur completed his comeback, and then Burlington’s Khiem Nguyen and Nevin Morton surged to straight-sets victory over Jack Higgins and Collin Adams (7-5, 6-3).
The No. 2 doubles wrapped just as the second set of the Schulman-Sampson match was heating up.
“If we a choice of anybody in that matchbreaker it would have been Ben or one other guy,” Babbott said. “That was pretty gutsy.”
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D-I BOYS CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
At Leddy Park
(6) Champlain Valley 4, (1) Burlington 3
Singles: Hugo Crainich (B) def. Ethan Lisle (C) 6-1, 6-1; Charlie Mjaanes (C) def. Louis Berlind (B) 2-6, 6-4, 10-8; Will Doweney (B) def. Kobey Pecor (C) 7-6, 6-4; Henry Bijur (C) def. Sam Silberman (B) 4-6, 6-2, 10-7; Ben Sampson (C) def. Theodore Schulman (B) 2-6, 7-6, 10-8.
Doubles: Aidan Greer/Cooper Whalen (C) def. Mark Munson/August Rienhart (B) 7-5, 6-4; Khiem Nguyen/Nevin Morton (B) def. Jack Higgins/Collin Adams (C) 7-5, 6-3.